PDEA chief apologizes; Bato won’t
One official has issued an apology, while the other has not, giving the public a window to their contrasting styles in dealing with the drug problem.
Showing that the war on drugs is humane, the head of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) has apologized for its insensitivity in disclosing that one of 11 people arrested in a recent drug bust had HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).
In contrast, the Philippine National Police chief said he had nothing to apologize for in questioning an international news agency about the timing of its report on a police antinarcotics operation in Manila that was attended by irregularities and resulted in the summary execution of three suspects.
A group of journalists claimed that PNP Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, had implied that Reuters was working for drug lords and had said that the release of the report was meant to smear the PNP with the possible return of its lead role in the drug war.
Right to privacy
In a statement, PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino said the agency should not have publicly disclosed the HIV status of one suspect in the drug raid out of respect for his privacy.
“PDEA has expressed regret in the advertent mention during a recent press conference that one of the suspects, though his identity was withheld, is infected with HIV,” Aquino said.
“We may have gone overboard by violating his right to privacy,” he added.
On Nov. 26 agents of the PDEA special enforcement service swooped down on a room at a hotel in Bonifacio Global City.
The PDEA raid resulted in the arrest of 11 men and the seizure of some P300,000 worth of narcotics, including ecstasy, crystal meth and gamma butyrolactone, considered a “date rape” drug because it is usually placed in drinks and increases a person’s sex drive and causes euphoria.
The PDEA said members of the group were having a male-to-male sex party at the time of the raid.
“During the operation, one suspect admitted that he is HIV positive after yielding to authorities a bottle of medication supposedly for treatment of the disease,” Aquino noted.
“In our ardent desire to issue a warning that organized passion parties spiked with illegal drugs and involving male-to-male sexual partners may contribute to the high prevalence of HIV infections in the country, we have disregarded the context of privacy,” he added.
The PDEA director general concluded, “It was never our intention to be insensitive and discriminatory against people with HIV.”
Aquino drew flak from Red Whistle, an HIV awareness advocacy group, and several lawmakers for mentioning at a press conference on Monday that one of the arrested suspects was infected with HIV.
The group cited the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act, which provides that a person’s HIV status is confidential except in specific medical situations and if subject to a court subpoena.
In an interview over dzMM on Wednesday night, Dela Rosa said he was willing to say sorry if he had done something wrong.
Addressing Reuters, the PNP chief said: “I have apologized so many times to the public for something I had done wrong but this time, my God, I never said Reuters was in cahoots with drug lords.”
He pointed out, “I never said anything like that. So how can I apologize?”
The PNP chief was reacting to a statement by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) that demanded an apology.
“At the very least, he (Dela Rosa) owes the men and women of Reuters, particularly writers Clare Baldwin and Andrew R.C. Marshall, an apology and a pledge to ensure their safety from the possible consequences of his irrational and irresponsible utterances,” the NUJP said.
The NUJP advised Dela Rosa to promise to respect media independence and to “read reports before reacting to them.”
Dela Rosa affirmed that he was questioning the timing of the release of the report, pointing out that Reuters should have come out with it earlier.
“It’s close to December and it happened in October … Why release it now when the news is stale?” he said.
Dela Rosa pointed out that his statements on Wednesday may have been taken out of context.
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